Trespassing may be illegal in Florida, but there are certain circumstances when a trespasser can gain the right to stay on a property if he or she remains on the property for an extended period of time.
Sometimes called “squatters’ rights,” the legal term for a granting a trespasser right to use land is called "adverse possession.”
In order to obtain land through adverse possession, there are many things a trespasser must do. And there are certain actions the owner
can take to evict a trespasser who does not have a right of possession.
How Squatters May Make a Legal Claim to Property in Florida
Adverse possession laws make to possible for unwanted or abandoned property to be legally transferred to an owner who's willing to put it to good use. However, some may see adverse possession as a way for squatters to steal property without compensating the owner. In order to avoid as many legal disputes as possible, Florida has strict requirements on when and how trespassers may gain a legal right to someone else’s property.
There are many requirements for a valid adverse possession claim in Florida, including:
- Hostile claim. The trespasser must be aware that he or she is trespassing. In other words, she must know that the land doesn't belong to her at the time she begins living on the property.
- Actual possession. The trespasser must be physically present on the property and treating the land as her own.
- Open and notorious possession. Unlike traditional trespassing which is often done in secret, a trespasser in this case would believe she has a legal right to remain on the property. As a result, the act of trespassing cannot be done in secret, and the trespasser should be living openly on the property.
- Continuous possession. Under Florida law, a person may have the right of adverse possession if she occupies the land continuously, without sharing possession with others, for seven years. During this time, the owner shouldn't have taken any legal action to regain access to property.
- Tax and title. A trespasser who pays property taxes for seven years, or acts under "color of title” from a tax assessor for four years, may obtain adverse possession.
- Improvements. Florida’s adverse possession laws require a trespasser to make alterations or improvements to the property. Improvements may include mowing the lawn, removing dead trees, planting a garden, or making modifications to the structure.
Ways for Owners to Legally Remove Trespassers
If someone is living on your property without your permission, you should bring a removal action as soon as you become aware of the situation. While there isn't a specific time limit for a landowner to challenge a trespasser, the length of time you wait to take action may affect the outcome of the case.
Owners may be able to challenge adverse possession claims through:
- Behavior of trespasser. Adverse possession requires the open, continuous, and peaceful occupation of a piece of land. If there's evidence that someone is living in a vacant building, but the person isn't present at all times, the occupation isn't open and continuous. Similarly, any littering or criminal activity (such as drug use or vandalism) can be seen as an opposition to improving the property.
- Encroachment agreements. Adverse possession can transfer ownership from one person to another, or it can be used to grant a trespasser the right to access or pass through a piece of land. A narrow lane that acts as a shortcut between buildings may be used by the owner and a neighbor, even though it lies on the owner’s land. In these circumstances, an owner may give the neighbor—technically a “trespasser"—written permission to use the lane under certain circumstances. The document may prevent the neighbor from obtaining legal rights to the lane and passing along that right to future owners.
- Unlawful detainers. Owners cannot take eviction actions against squatters, since squatters are not bound by landlord-tenant rental agreements. In these cases, owners must file an unlawful detainer action, which challenges a person’s right of possession over a home or land.
Choose a Legal Partner Who Can Help
Laws involving adverse possession and trespassing disputes can be complex, and will require a thorough investigation of the details in your case. If you would like to know your rights as a Florida landowner or occupier of a piece of land, simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up a consultation.